Thursday, 24 September 2009

Chasing the Sun

Imbued with the spirit of adventure after our walking holiday in North Wales, we were itching to get away again, but not for a week this time, just a short break of a few days to fit in with our weekend commitments. We checked the weather reports to see where the sun was destined to shine over our beautiful island and decided to chase after it instead of being at the mercy of clouds and rain over our little patch in Northamptonshire. We Ebay’d our way through cottages, B&B’s, static caravans and log cabins that offered so much or indeed too little for stonking great wedges of greenbacks for what amounted to a short let of two nights, where even worse, our furry friends were mostly persona non grata.

“When did things get so damn complicated and expensive?”, I asked Himself as I sloped off to make us a coffee and to rethink our options. I thought back to the ease of my teenage years where camping was a de rigueur requirement of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme of which I was working my way through the achievement levels. The excitement of leaving one’s parents to partake of an adventure of sailing, canoeing and rock climbing sent us giddy with anticipation. Each day was an adventure of hanging precariously backwards over the side of a yacht, holding steadfastly to the jib rope, as the sail swung dangerously low overhead, changing our direction as we sailed round at a superbly fast rate of noughts that would have the fainthearted heaving up lunch overboard. If it wasn’t sailing it was canoeing in the icy cold waters of the lake where learning to roll your canoe, wait three seconds and tap the now upturned underside to say you were still alive took your breath away as you almost expired from hypothermia before any thought of drowning entered your head. No matter that we returned to base camp soaked and cold through to the bones, for a hot shower, beans and sausages for dinner with a mug of hot chocolate. We could sleep for Scotland under damp canvas on a mountain of building site rubble and with our supple, mouldable young bodies experiencing few bouts of agony before embarking on another days exciting activity

Many years later, foot firmly placed on the bottom rung of the career ladder and somewhat financially challenged, I experienced camping as an activity once again. Only this time, there was no joie de vivre comparable to the experiences of my earlier youth. The cheap inflatable beds deflated overnight and were about as comfortable as an MFI flat-pack; the ground sheet wasn’t attached to the tent and all manner of creepy crawlies found the inside of our tent much more favourable than the howling soaking conditions just outside. The piece de r√©sistance was to discover that as we had pitched the tent in darkness, we were perilously close to the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop of heart stopping proportions. Obviously we relocated and re-erected the tent somewhere less life threatening but I spent the rest of a two week vacation in that bloody hell hole. Why we stayed is another story, but I vowed that as long as hotels and B&B’s were in existence I would never spend another night under some flimsy piece of canvas masquerading as a holiday home; where the toilet and shower block looked like something out of Tenko with turds floating in toilet pans whose previous incumbents hadn’t enough brain cells to work a flush handle; where the only thing missing was a tower manned with a search light, machine gun and a barbed wire fence to complete the ambiance of the camp site from hell. And so it was, that in the intervening years of international travel staying in top class hotels, apartments and villa’s, I kept my word never to holiday like a refugee and having been spoiled to within an inch of my life, had become somewhat even more precious.

“Where’s the coffee then?”, Himself asked, as he slumped down at the kitchen table and interrupted my trip down memory lane.

“I don’t think it’s worth shelling out a week’s money for a two to three night stay”, I said, as I passed him his coffee and sat down, resigned to shelving our mini break for the time being.

“Well, what about we take that tent I bought a few weeks back?”, he proffered carefully, knowing I’d rather poke my eyes out with a hot poker than go camping again in this life time.

“Camping! Bloody camping in that 3 man tent you bought for your road-trip with D?” The shrill tone of my voice wasn’t entirely unexpected but it made him sit back in his chair nonetheless. “You mean the tiny effort you bought at Asda for forty quid that hasn’t seen the light of day because ‘it rained a bit’ and you wallowed in comfort in a B&B with gastro food on the go and Guinness at three quid a pint keeping the smile on your face? You must think my head buttons up the back”, I threw as a final shot at such a ludicrous suggestion.

“Nah, didn’t think you’d go for that, I’ll keep looking ”, he said with a cheeky grin as he picked up his coffee and headed towards the study, leaving me mumbling to myself about what it was to be living the dream.

As I prepared lunch my thoughts turned to the girl and woman I had been who’d embraced life and was up for a challenge. Somewhere along the line I’d lost sight of the tomboy that loved the outdoors; that often rose to any dare my five brothers would throw at me. I winced at the time I lost my footing and fell out of a tree; gasped at my foolhardy actions when I swam the Margin in the river Clyde knowing that the dangerously strong currents could whisk me away in a moment and smiled at numerous other calamities that befell me. But eventually I mourned the woman who had travelled the world on business and holiday, never worrying about my destination or the people I would meet. All those years of childhood devouring my mother’s National Geographic magazines instilled in me a need to travel far and wide and I’d achieved more than my wildest dreams but it had lain dormant for too long. Too many business trips over a 25 year period, initially exciting and fun had eventually become a chore and long left me jaded, dulled my inquisitive nature and quashed my spirit of adventure. In short, I was a bore.

“Okay, you’re on”, I said, with eyes shining as Himself raised his fork to his mouth.

“On for what?”, he asked, eyeing me suspiciously .

“Camping, what else? It was your suggestion, okay? So let’s do it”.

“Yeah right,” he said, almost choking on his lunch at my sudden change of attitude.

“The weather’s great here today”, I continued, “but fantastic down south tomorrow so if we get packed early morning we can be in the New Forest by lunchtime, that way we can maximise the amount of sunshine we get over the next few days. And, if the worst comes to the worst and we get flooded out, we’re no more than two hours journey back home”, I offered, convincing myself that nothing was irredeemable.

“Yeah, right”.

And so it came to pass and we found ourselves pitching our all-in-one tent with attached ground sheet – no scary hairy monsters sharing our sleeping bags then - in the New Forest, a national park and an area of exceptional beauty. History records that the New Forest was created as a royal hunting ground in 1079 by William the Conqueror, the Norman king who trounced King Harold at the battle of Hastings in 1066. In time William handed the New Forest over to the commoners for the pasturing of ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys and those royal concessions remain today. We walked our dogs alongside ponies and donkeys of all shapes, sizes and colours; an equine mishmash synonymous to the area and with the freedom to roam wherever their hooves take them. In a surreal moment we shared a pavement with a donkey in the picturesque town of Brockenhurst as it ambled its way from one end of the town to the other, perhaps looking for this season’s horse shoes by Manolo Blahnik.

The camp site, populated by enormous oak, elm, monkey puzzle, silver birch, willow trees and many more, too numerous to mention here, provided the camouflage needed to protect us from the elements. Bordering the campsite was a vast field, home to some of the equine population and provided the ideal place to walk the dogs sans leads. As we strolled onwards we entered a continuation of forest providing long walks of great stillness and serenity where the only sound was the crackling underfoot of twig and leaf as we traversed the designated paths in warm sunlight recharging our sun starved souls.

On our second day we took a trip to Milford on sea and discovered to our delight the Hurst shingle bank, a mammoth shingle barrier and natural feature that runs from Milford alongside the Isle of Wight. Cascading downwards in a seamless flow of shingle, bank became beach, to meet the Solent, a sparkling azure sea with the stillness of a millpond. Waves broke gently on the shore as Beach-casters cast their lines wide hoping to catch Mackerel, Scad and Black Bream. We watched as they gazed out to sea, lost in thought and turning only infrequently with a companionable nod to their fellow fisherman in acknowledgement of their shared solitude. As we scanned East of the shoreline we could see Hurst castle, where Charles the 1st was kept captive during the English Civil war; situated in the narrowest stretch of water between the mainland and the northern shores of the Isle of Wight, the castle was the first line of defence from ships entering the Solent from the west. Scanning westwards from the castle, we couldn’t fail to see the Needles, a famous trio of distinctive formations of chalk that rise out of the sea to the west of the Isle of Wight.

Further west and a short drive along the coast we alighted at Barton on sea. Hovering precariously close to the edge of the cliff top, the Solent below us had taken on a hue of brilliant aquamarine and melded perfectly on the horizon with a clear blue sky in a panorama reminiscent of Italy's Amalfi coast. Our high vantage point afforded us a spectacular view to Milford on sea in the west and to Christchurch and Hengitsbury Head in the east. With a sky so immense and a vista so extensive I willed myself to absorb every single detail my eyes could see as I inhaled the smell of fresh seaweed and listened to the seagulls cawing mournfully as they flew gracefully over the sea.

Each night we’d return to our temporary home on a beautiful campsite so far removed from Dante’s campsite for the criminally insane that I’d stayed in all those years ago. The shower and toilet blocks were clean and modern. We met people from all walks of life who were fun and interesting; the most surprising a group of senior citizens in their 60’s 70’ and 80’s for whom they claimed camping was a way of life and who were strong advocates for how the outdoor life kept them fit, healthy and vibrant. Our dogs behaved impeccably as they sat snuggled in the open tailgate of our people carrier, backed onto our area where we sat in surprisingly comfortable camping chairs. As the hot sun soaked day gave way to a balmy dusk, we sat drinking red wine out of plastic beakers and talked about so much that was important to us and what the future could hold for us too. A quiet hush descended upon the campsite around 10pm as weary campers retired for the night. With one last look at the star encrusted sky, so very clear without the light pollution we are used to, we too retired exhausted, dogs in tow into our small tent with the most comfortable blow up bed ever.

“So, what do you think of it all now, Mrs Mob?”, Himself asked, as we snuggled down for the night.

“Brilliant”, I replied. “And surprisingly romantic too. What about you eh, what do you think about it dearheart?”

“Ditto”, he said, seconds before a gentle snore told me this was the best thing we had done in years.


Jennyta said...

It sounds delightful. I must talk to Keith...! :)

Maggie May said...

Good for you. Not a bit like the camping days we had when I was a gal! Damp tent you couldn't sit up in, black beetles everywhere, no washing facilities and toilets that you could smell from a mile away. (Open cesspits) And the weather ALWAYS rained (Lake District)
Very far removed from that, your holiday.!

DJan said...

Oh, MOB, that was the most wonderfulest story ever. And you ended up in a great place, with good friends, furry family, and Himself. What a good story! Thanks for sharing it, I've been watching to see when you might be posting again, and it was worth the wait...

Kathy's Klothesline said...

What a wonderful testimonial to the camping industry! If ever you cross that big pond and find yourself wandering through the middle of our country I invite you to pop your tent here in our humble campground with the moniker of "Kan-Do". We aim to please.....

Carol said...

I love camping but have not done it in years!! The last time I went camping was when I was in my early 20's and I went to Glen was bloody freezing but we were within walking distance of a great pub and I discovered a love of whisky that I didn't know I had!!

Husband has never been camping...not sure I will ever be able to persuade him!! I think I'll get him to read this post :-)

I'm so glad you had a wonderful time :-)

C x

Edward said...

Now if only you can persuade Milla - she is at least as anti-tents as you were before your trip. You were lucky with the weather, but you deserved it!

aims said...

You know me - I love to travel! And I'll camp any given day. We have our little travel trailer that is all of 13 feet long and about 6.5 feet wide. We love it!

A beautiful getaway MOB. I'm so glad you have found it once more.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Jennyta – it was perfection, but of course the weather was terrific. You should definitely try it sometime.

Maggie – your comment just reminds me of how bad it was for my camping trip many years ago! Camping is definitely not a wet weather activity.

Djan – bless you, you are always so complimentary. It was definitely a great experience and we intend to do more short breaks.

Kathy – we will definitely look you up when we do a tour of the USA. Probably in a Winnebago though rather than a tent!

Carole – you must have frozen the skin off your eyeballs camping up Glen Co! We are a hardy lot us Scots!

Edward – we paid good attention to the weather reports before we headed off. I doubt I could camp in poor weather – that would be living like a refugee! We are lucky to be able to choose when to get away so looking forward to next year. We had an amazing time.

Aims – you don’t need much space for a few days here and there as we found we were out walking for most of the day. I can see how much you enjoy travelling and camping as we have fallen in love with experiencing new places and sights. Maybe one day we can accompany you to New Orleans as we have been mesmerised by your accounts of the place!

Anonymous said...


Give me luxury every time though.


PS Where did you plug the hair dryer?

Anonymous said...

I haven't been camping for years, but i used to enjoy it. I have an award for you over at my blog.

Susie Vereker said...

How brave, but absolutely not my cup of mint tea. Glad you enjoyed brilliant weather.

Martin H. said...

I really enjoyed this post and chuckled a lot along the way.

Glad you had a great time in our 'neck of the woods'!

Susie Vereker said...

MOB, thanks for visiting one of my secondary blogs but my main one is 'Susie Vereker - writer' where I rave on about books I've read and gardens and things.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

NWBD – I agree about the luxury thing but I can safely say that I was spoiled so much that I don’t mind trying something new. We had the absolutely best of times and it was an adventure! The hairdryer is attached to a wall and for 20 pence you can dry your hair in warmth. Other sites let you connect up to an electricity point – pretty good stuff.

Jo – thank you so much for the award. I am chuffed that you included me in your roll-call.

Susie – not surprised that it isn’t your cup of tea being an Ambassador’s wife! A tent would be too much of a culture shock I would imagine! I’ve ordered two of your books on Amazon and really looking forward to reading them after the rave reviews.

Martin – thanks for such a nice comment. Given your writing pedigree I am chuffed to say the least. You are very lucky to live in Hampshire; it truly is a beautiful place.

Keri said...

Hello MOB from your friend at SAG. Oh how I love to read your writings. If you haven't already, you should write a book, Dear. You are that good and you probably know it. It was strange to hear from you today as I was just going thru my draft box and found one I hadn't finished. Published it anyway and low and behold, seconds later there was a comment from you. Whew, I NEVER get comments on this site as I haven't yet spent much time networking it. What a nice surpise. Love reading you. Makes me want to go back and spend the day with all your stuff. But off to work. Take good care, Keri

Mo said...

Sounds like a lot of fun but you haven't covinced me to go camping. I'll stick to the B&Bs thanks.

I guess the gorilla run was not quite how you thought you'd be keeping tabs on the ex.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Keri – thanks for such a great comment. You are consistently kind with your comments. I am writing a book right now so who knows eh?!

Mo – camping in a tent isn’t for the fainthearted particularly when there is horrid weather so I know where you are coming from. It was the excitement and lack of constraint that we enjoyed the most – being able to get away at the drop of a hat – but yes camping in a tent isn’t our preferred choice of holiday home!

Lena said...

Oh, my God! All that water sport and camping out! You're one feisty lady! And a brave one - dipping in the Clyde! lol

I only ever camped out once when I moaned to go fishing! If it wasn't for the wine, guitar, book and CD's, I don't know what I'd have done....! Even the surrounding fungi was tempting me!

Wet bums - no fun!

Lane said...

That was such a great read.

you picked a stunning place and I'm so glad you had glorious weather and great time. Well done for recapturing your inner 'gal':-)

By the way, wandering donkeys in search of Manola Blahniks made me snort:-)

Brighton Mum-Teenage Angst said...

Oh, you write so beautifully! It almost made me want to go camping..I said almost! It sounds like you both had a wonderful, relaxing break. Don't you find its always those spur of the moment things we do that end up being the most brilliant. Much love to you and I'm going for another read of it's that good! x

Suburbia said...

Thanks so much for your recent comments.

unfortunately I have had to make my blog invite only. If you still want to read my ramblings then please e mail me (address on my profile page) and I will send you an invite x

Susie Vereker said...

Gosh, that's nice of you, M-not-so-old-B. Thank you very much.
Actually, regardless of past temporary uppish status, have never liked tents since disastrous time at G.Guides where we camped in the charmingly named Drains Bay, Co Antrim.

Mo said...

Glad you are inspired to come to London

i beati said...

I love to read what shapes the person we are sandy

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh but it sounds like you had a lovely time nonetheless. You're braver than me. I wouldn't go camping ever, can't stand creepy crawlies and public loos!!

CJ xx

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Lena – no wet bums are horrid! Luckily we only saw clear blue skies and great temperatures and no wind! Wine does help but we were so jiggered from walking for miles we only managed a bottle between us – result! Oh and the river Clyde – there wasn’t the pollution that this is today thank God but is freezing even in summer!

Lane – so good to see you back. The donkey could of course have been looking for a nosebag to match, who knows!

BMTA – thank you so much for such a nice comment. You hit the nail on the head – just getting away on a whim was amazing and that was what we relished the most.

Suburbia – I’ll get on to email when himself takes a break. Hope all is well with you.

Susie V – I was never allowed to join the G.G’s but I desperately wanted to! Still, I got to do the Duke of Edinburgh which was fantastic.

Mo – we’ve been talking about it for a while. But your pictures just make me want to hop on a train right now.

Ibeati – so much shapes us, good and bad in life. But we go on learning and that’s such a great thing. Always rely on instinct I think!

Crystal – honestly, the creep crawlies were at a minimum. Only saw two very delicate spiders in the tent so evicted them gently to go on their way.

Keri said...

LOL. hey lovely lunatic, how are you today. I'm in love with hortense. I'm taking your advise and trying to get more exposure on SAG. Your my Shero, Keri

Tattie Weasle said...

I am so glad you had such a great time - let that inner tom boy spring!
Huge admiration now if only I can get Dear Charlie to stop snoring....

LittleBrownDog said...

Wow - MOB - that was just like a breath of fresh air, a holiday in itself reading about your British camping bliss. Are you sure you're not making it up? There I was, poised for something to go pear-shaped, a tipsy donkey, perhaps, getting the spiked heel of his Manolo tangled up in one of your guy ropes and sending the whole thing cascading down like a beautifully painted house of cards... But it was beautiful and life-affirming, right to the last syllable. Can I come with you next time? Promise not to snore (well, not much...) xx

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Keri – glad you like Hortense – she’s my alter ego or should I say WAS when I was in the throes of the menopause! Thankfully the worst of that is over.

Tattie – it was superb. I was expecting rain, mud, being damp in our clothes, wet dog smell and insects! That would have had us tearing back home in a minute. I’d imagine someone snoring very loudly to be about as popular with the other campers as a snake in a lucky dip!

LBD – it was truly as good as it sounded. We were amazed that we had such a good time. But then the weather was fantastic and the temperatures in the 19’s so it was heaven. I loved the imagery of an inebriated donkey staggering around in her pointy shoes, possibly with a fag on the go and a nosebag full of bubbly, wrecking the tent! Oh you’d be first on the list of people that would be an honour to go camping with! But crikey, you haven’t got time to breath let alone go camping!

Anonymous said...

Good for you for remembering, fondly, your inner tomboy and taking the risk to relive the adventures of your youth. It sounds so beautiful, almost magical. I'm so glad that you did this.

I really enjoyed, as always, hearing the stories of your past. I didn't want your post to end.

You could never, ever be considered a bore!


DJan said...

Wow, you have so many comments I stopped reading them so I can post one before the old brain forgets why I came here again. I just wanted to say thank you so much for all the kind comments you continue to leave on my posts. And I am thrilled to find that you are INDEED writing a book. Keep me posted on what it turns out to be about and when it comes out so I can be the first to buy it!

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Sounds like paradise MOB! Wonderful post! I've missed you dear friend!
I'm moving apartments and have weeks of stress ahead, let alone not having had internet for a few weeks so far...
Will be around more often once my little new home sweet home is all set up and running! I just wanted to stop by to say Hello!!
Big Hugs lovely lady! XX

Flower Power Mom said...

I utterly share your ambivalence about camping. I grew up in Ontario, Canada, home and breeding ground of the unquenchable kamikaze mosquito. I have a picture of my sister when she was 20, the morning after camping looking like she went 20 rounds with the world heavyweight boxing champion. She had to go to casualty. Not my cup of tea, although I envy your good night's sleep. Hey MOB, FPM had its official launch in the press stateside today--please take a peek if you get a chance!

Eddie Bluelights said...

Nice bit of camping sounds great to me.
No doubt you've heard I am looking after David's Sunday Roasting.
I would be honoured if you would be my guest when you return. Please reply on my email and I will say what is required. I know you would be a very popular choice - Best wishes ~ Eddie

Sandi McBride said...

LOL, I still say if I want to rough it, I'll stay at the Holiday Inn...but no, they even have coffee makers in the rooms now and perhaps I'll have to give camping a try...just not in this lifetime!!!
Great post...laughed OUT LOUD!!